Hundreds of clergy attend CPS cultural diversity training class

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By Chinta Strausberg


Sponsored by the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Faith Base Initiatives, hundreds of ministers from around the city attended a multi-cultural faith base diversity-training seminar Thursday at the Parent Center where they learned the value of diversity that leads to cultural and racial healing.

Held at 521 E. 35th Street, black, white, Hispanic and Asian ministers attended the nearly six-hour cultural diversity training class that included a game of cultural jeopardy and even provided an ethnic Mexican and Soul food luncheon.

Whether the ministers headed a for profit or not-for-profit organization, the guest speaker, Darnell L. Johnson, CEO/founder of the Holistic Community Coalition NFP, told the audience, “cultural sensitivity leads to cultural competency” and explained that achievement comes as a result of better understanding the diversity of people including respecting gender preferences.

He warned them about making generalizations about people without first doing their homework and stressed the importance of  “dealing with each person individually” one visit at a time.

Johnson said that same client who may come back a week later for help may have a different set of problems and circumstances and that the best treatment they can offer is to be an excellent listener and allow their clients to talk.

Explaining the purpose of the event was Rev. Renaldo Kyles, Interfaith Director for CPS. “We wanted to bring all of our churches together to do capacity building, program development and to provide resources to the faith base community.

Kyles also invited the ministers to be a part of CPS’ “Church Adopt A School” program.  He wants the churches to adopt a school which includes meeting with the principals “and see how your church can partner, doing an after school program, mentoring and parental involvement activities.

“This is important because the church is a valued part of the community. We need the church because the church is the anchor of the community; so what better place than to get the church to come and be involved with the schools,” Kyles explained.

He also announced a CPS Safe Haven program that will be held during the spring break from April 18th through April 21st.  The goal is to help provide students with a safe haven that includes supervised after school activities while providing them with positive role models.

Johnson warned the ministers that any social services to people “they cannot be offered as a mandate to be the participants of a church. There is something that requires the separation of service….”

They can offer people service in their churches but not in conjunction with their church services. “You cannot tell a person in order to get this service you got to come to my church service….. We have to understand that in a world of cultural diversity when you’re offering service to the community, you become a community service provider,” said Johnson.

He further explained that when they come to a public entity like a school district or if they apply for federal or state grants there are boundaries they must respect. “You can not take public money and them posture it in such a way to tell people that you can only get this service if you come to my church or if you become a member of my church….”

It boils down to ministers understanding that “even though we may have to serve a population that we don’t necessarily agree with. It does not necessarily send a message that I am condoning or supporting the types of behavior that may be presented to you…. The key is we have to make sure that we’re willing to serve the public regardless of what they present to you,” said Johnson.

He asked the ministers who had programs that include a policy and plan to address people with ADE and ADHD to raise their hands. Only six did. “They have a different need than the other children that may be in our program. So, what you just said to that community is you’re not welcome here. We want all the kids who are not on medication.

“Do you see how the things we fail to do and how we alienate certain groups and basically send a message to them that says you’re not really welcome here,” said Johnson. He challenged them saying, “if you’re looking for money on a state or federal level and you offer programs, there is a 94.9 percent of all RFP’s they are going to have a mandate that you give an explanation and show them how you’re going to handle individuals with special needs.

“Even nationally, they are starting to recognize that you cannot continue to overlook people, and when we are culturally insensitive, it forces us to overlook people….”

Johnson asked them how many organizations that worked with ex-offenders. “One of our greatest frustrations in working with the ex-offender population is the disregard that our nation has for them.

“When we start speaking about unemployment, we don’t consider individuals who came out of prison and don’t have a job. We consider them ex-offenders and the reason why we tell them further that they are not important is because all of the laws that are in place that prohibits them from being able to get back on track once they get out of prison,” said Johnson.

“That says to them once you’ve made a mistake you’re not welcome here anymore. You’re basically ostracized from the community of doing anything positive and getting back on track and there are laws in place that support it,” he stated. “There is another culture that we as people have written off and feel they are undeserving of a fair second chance.”

Johnson asked the ministers if any of them had ever made a mistake one or many times. “If they gave you another chance, then why is that we feel individuals who are different from us do not deserve another chance,” he told an applauding audience.

“It’s a culturally disconnect. We don’t understand the culture of the life of an ex-offender and until you’ve been labeled as a felon…everywhere you go you have to tell them you’re a felon…, you have to regurgitate the same thing. You’re still labeled by society of being something that’s not deserving of another opportunity. It’s a cultural problem,” said Johnson.

“Many times these individuals come back to the community rehabilitated only to be rejected by a community that is not rehabilitated.” Johnson said they have paid their debt to society but “you don’t want to let it go.”

Saying they must be culturally sensitive, Johnson said, “You have to understand the importance of making sure your organization and your staff know how to be culturally sensitive to any situation.” He explained, “Your staff will set the tone for the reputation of your organization.”

Johnson had the audience break up into eight groups where they listed five programs in a community and solutions. Each discussed their solutions with Johnson expounding on their problems.

That too is part of the healing process and one that will open up venues of assistance they may not have arrived at had they not listened intently. Johnson also told them “If your organization is not reflective of cultural and professional diversity, you are headed down a dangerous path. Everyone in your office cannot look just like you…can’t think like you think.

“There has to be diversity in your staff, and when you become culturally proficient, you look for opportunities to be culturally diverse so that you hire that person.

 “You make sure that you embrace the diversity needs. You make sure that diversity is a priority and a foundational principle that you build each and every program or initiative your organization offers to the community. When you become culturally proficient, you become nervous when you don’t have someone who is not bi-lingual on staff,” said Johnson.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.

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